First it was Henry Cavill’s mustache that became famous.
Cavill grew a killer mustache to play the professional killer August Walker in “Mission: Impossible — Fallout,” but when shooting overlapped with “Justice League,” Warner Bros. reportedly spent millions of dollars to digitally remove the mustache — because Superman don’t play no ‘stache.
Then Alec Baldwin, who plays Tom Cruise’s boss in “Fallout,” made Cavill’s shoulders talk-show-famous by repeatedly telling an anecdote about doing a fight scene with Cavill.
“Henry Cavill really is Superman,” Baldwin told Jimmy Fallon. “The guy’s body is made of marble. His shoulders are so big that when they’d do my close-up over his shoulder, I would say to him, ‘Can you bend down please? Your shoulder is in the way of my camera.’ ”
Now it’s time for Henry Cavill’s arms to take the spotlight.
In perhaps the most spectacular hand-to-hand combat fight scene in “Mission: Impossible” history, Cavill’s August Walker gathers himself at one point and “re-loads” his arms — a move that has become the Meme of the Moment.
“That was just a spur-of-the-moment thing,” says Cavill, telephoning from Washington, D.C., in advance of a premiere screening of “Fallout,” which hits theaters Thursday.
“My character was so frustrated with this kind of delicate, tiptoeing-around approach to the mission that he just wanted to get it done. And that’s him saying, ‘Right, the gloves are off, I’m warming up my pain machine and I’m about to give it to this guy.’ It doesn’t exactly go his way in that scene, but it’s the thought that counts, right?”
In the sixth and perhaps most critically acclaimed installment of the Tom Cruise franchise that was launched in 1996, Cavill plays August Walker, who becomes a partner of sorts to Ethan Hunt on the latest impossible mission.
“August Walker is the CIA’s No. 1 guy if you absolutely need someone dead; he’s very, very good at that,” says Cavill. (His crisp British accent almost comes as a surprise, given how authentic Cavill’s “American” sounds when he’s playing Clark Kent/Superman and this character.)
“When they need someone to carry out that mission, he has no qualms about taking down other people in the process. He doesn’t mind collateral damage at all because he sees it as the greater good ultimately. If 10 people lose their life here, then a thousand people get to live down the line.”
Walker is a killing machine, but Cavill says it was important to find those beats where Walker displays a sense of humor and an almost laissez-faire attitude.
“It could be very easy to make him just this menacing, sinister, dangerous type. But I wanted to make him nonchalant and carefree. That’s how he deals emotionally and psychologically with things on a mission-to-mission basis.”
Without giving anything away, let’s just say August Walker is a … complicated fellow. Cavill says it was a challenge for him to create a backstory for Walker.
“For this character it was difficult as he was changing throughout the shoot. His motivations were changing. His backstory was changing. The way the character evolved throughout the shooting was always for the better. … It was a liquid process.”
At times the richly layered script for “Fallout” seems inspired by the Cold War spy films of the 1960s and 1970s. Writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has an Oscar on his resume for “The Usual Suspects.” Cavill says the prospect of working not only with Tom Cruise but with McQuarrie was “one of the greatest draws of this project — working with a writer of that caliber directing his own script. And he did not disappoint.”
At 56, Tom Cruise seems to emerge from a Time Machine every time he takes on another action role — and he famously does as many of his own stunts as possible. (Production on “Fallout” shut down for two months after Cruise broke his ankle doing a stunt.) Cavill has flown onscreen as Superman, but he makes it clear “Fallout” was by far his most physically challenging role.
“For me, coming onto a ‘Mission: Impossible’ franchise was an enticing prospect. I thought, ‘Great, I can get my hands dirty and do some of the stunts I’ve wanted to do for years.’
“Typically on other movies, either there hasn’t been a vast amount of stunt work, or it’s just been assumed I just wouldn’t do it. And so for this, I came in and I said to [stunt coordinator] Wade Eastwood, ‘If it’s within my skill limits, and obviously I’m not going to get anyone injured … assume I’m saying yes to everything.’ And that’s the way we went forward.”
“Doing the practical stunts for me was a real pleasure. When executed with the likes of Cruise, Eastwood and McQuarrie, it became a major part of the storytelling, not just, ‘Oh look, a big action sequence to get the blood pumping.’ It actually was alive and essential.”
The experience left him determined to further improve his game.
“I realized my physicality wasn’t necessarily enough to get me through these stunts. It’s one of the greatest lessons I pulled from this movie. I need to do work ‘after school’ if you will. I need to go out and get a number of licenses.
“You see someone like Tom Cruise flying a helicopter and you think, ‘Oh yeah, I can’t fly a helicopter.’ So I’ve already started building up my skill sets. I’ve passed my motorcycle test and I need to get involved in more extreme motorcycle riding just in case a role were to require it. In time, I also want to take my helicopter license and skydiving license and all the other licenses that are required to look like a badass in movie.”
All this talk of licenses makes for the perfect segue. What about playing a certain British agent who has a license to kill? Ten years ago, the choice for the new James Bond was reportedly down to Cavill and Daniel Craig, with Craig getting the nod. Would Cavill be interested if opportunity knocks?
“I would be very excited to explore that option if it were to come around again and I were to have an opportunity to sit down with [Bond producers] Mike Wilson and Barbara Broccoli,” says Cavill. “I would relish that opportunity.”
On talk shows and on Instagram (where he has nearly 6 million followers), Cavill is a little less … rigid than, say, Clark Kent — but the portal to his personal life is open only so much.
“I do like keeping my private life private,” he says, “but I think social media is a wonderful way of opening a window to my life as well, to show people who I am…
“There’s such a spotlight on [celebrity] life, which is not really my style. I come from a big family and we’re all very close and we’re not really people who shout to the top of lungs about what we’re going through. I think living 100 percent in the public eye probably doesn’t help you be as honest to oneself as possible because you’re always feeding off audience reaction, you know?”